Chapter 42

She could not tell the difference between it and a dream before she woke.

/The lock popped open with a soft sound, Yaretzi brushing past a kneeling form and creeping in with a rag in hand to cover Angharad’s mouth with it./

Angharad woke up looking at the ceiling, asleep and then not. It had been a glimpse, the Fisher pulling at their contract once again. The spirit had only ever done this to prevent her death, yet the noblewoman stayed lying down and looking at the ceiling as she heard the lock pop open. She should move, she thought, but could not quite bring herself to. Angharad’s mind was clear, awake, but her limbs were still dozing. It would have been easier to move the entire world than to move them.

A flicker of movement, then she found Yaretzi’s dark eyes above and a ragged cloth was being pressed against her face. There was a scent to it, sickly sweet, and Angharad dimly realized she was being drugged. Finally that tore through the veil of somnolence and panic rose sharply in her breast – Angharad tried to rise, to fight off Yaretzi, who pushed her down and cursed.

“-eight, nine,” the Izcalli was counting through gritted teeth.

Ten, Yaretzi reached, and Angharad felt a different numbness in her limbs. She tried to shout, but the sound came out slurred as if she were deep in her drinks. The Izcalli holding her down eyed her warily.

“Another five seconds just in case, I think,” Yaretzi said. “It is only Spinster’s Milk, dear, it won’t kill you.”

Angharad kept struggling, but it was as if her limbs had turned to lead. She could no longer feel her own jaw. Yaretzi glanced back at the door the noblewoman hadn’t heard closing and Angharad’s heart clenched at what she saw found there. Calm-eyed, holding a mostly shuttered lantern, Brun leaned back against the wood. She tried to say something, but between the poison and the cloth she got out only a formless moan.

“You told me your contract almost never breaks when used on a sleeper,” the Izcalli challenged.

“Almost,” Brun indifferently replied. “It could be because she has a contract herself.”

His hand was on his hatchet, fingering the haft in an unknowing tic. Yaretzi sighed.

“That’s what I get for working with amateurs,” she said. “I need to make a sweep to see if anyone noticed us, keep an eye on her meanwhile.”

The fair-haired Sacromontan shrugged. His accomplice narrowed her eyes.

“I need to ask her questions,” Yaretzi said. “So no accidents, Brun, or we have a problem.”

“Understood,” Brun simply said.

Even as the Izcalli rose and left, Angharad realized that what she had thought indifference in Brun’s voice was no such thing. His tone had not once changed since he came into the room, always in the same flat near monotone. The blonde traitor came to stand by her bed, idly pushing her back down when she tried to force herself up. She was so weak, her limbs like a child’s. The pair meant to kill her – they must, for they must know that otherwise she would slay them for this – but fear was slow in in coming.

Anger burned in its stead, like embers in the belly. Why, she tried to ask, a scream of outrage and confusion. What came out was a muted, slurred whergh but Brun understood her regardless. Emotion touched his face, but she thought it looked shallow. Regret only a fingernail deep.

“I am sorry it must be you,” Brun said. “You have treated me kindly and do not deserve it. But there is no one else I would get away with, and I am… too close.”

Another flicker of emotion at the last two words, this one deeper than the last. Fear, Angharad saw.  That was as afraid as she had ever seen the man.

“If I take Yong or Sarai, Tristan will knife me in the night,” Brun explained. “Shalini is now being watched like a hawk and Lan, well, she knows of me. She will have taken precautions. Already she has tried to kill me once.”

Angharad let out a noise a denial at the false accusation, just another traitor reaching for absolution. Brun shook his head at her.

“She bought Spinster’s Milk from Yaretzi,” he said. “I expect she put it in my waterskin, a small dose that would slowly add up, as I did not notice until that test on the Toll Bridge.”

That was… she had thought Brun seemed clumsy, when she watched him chasing the invisible spirit. But why would Lan – it took a second for her mind to catch up to the truth he had good as admitted. You killed Jun, she tried to say.

“Jush kwid jewn.”

“It was nothing against her,” Brun shrugged. “She was closest and the twins had just fought Tristan, which I thought would muddy the waters.”

Sleeping God, how much had she missed? Was she struck with blindness, the only fool among a pack of wolves? It felt like she had been struck in the belly, the breath wheezing out of her. Twice Brun had killed, and now she was to be the third. And she did not even know why. Some of that must have shown on her face, for the man sighed.

“I owe you for distracting the cultists during the Trial of Lines,” Brun acknowledged. “And I suppose the knowledge won’t be going anywhere.”

The man considered her with cold eyes.

“There is a festival in the Murk,” he said. “A week where lamplights are repaired, many of them taken down at once, so nowadays people hang small red paper lanterns and make small games in the streets. The Trench sends miners back to the city around that time, and my mother loved making the lanterns. It was one of the few things we did together.”

It was, Angharad thought, horrifying to hear what sounded like such a personal story in such an utterly detached tone.

“When they died, well, that is a long story,” Brun said. “But I clutched to one of those paper lanterns like it was the last thing I had. Prayed to it, almost. And someone heard me.”

The blond man’s eyes went unfocused as he glanced to the side, as if he were staring at something Angharad could not see. Brun frowned before turning his gaze back to her.

“A young god,” he said. “Farolito, the god of that nameless festival. I am his first contract.”

Brun shrugged.

“He wanted to help,” he said. “But gods are not men, especially when so young.”

He glanced to the side again, looking annoyed, then back to her. He is being visited by his god.

“I would have died if not for the pact,” Brun clarified. “But he did not realize what he was asking, nor I what I was giving. I wanted to hide, for the vultures to leave me alone, and so he let me press calm into others. Empty them of everything, like the moment after the end of a festival. To do this I must be able to feel their presence, so I could.”

So that was the truth of the strange lethargy that had taken her. And of how he had been able to feel their pursuers during the Trial of Lines and the flight to Cantica.

“In exchange,” Brun tonelessly continued, “he took what he loves of the festival: emotions. Not the entire length of them, only the strong parts, and I thought it a bargain. I would never fear again, never weep in the dark.”

He paused.

“I was wrong.”

The simple, matter-of-fact way he spoke those three words sent a shiver down her spine.

“It feels worse when I use my contract,” Brun said. “As if all of Vesper is growing quieter, every noise falling away. And the noise, it does not return. I began to forget what it felt like to feel anything at all, and could not even muster fear that one day I would simply lay down and not care as I starved.”

The blond man clicked his tongue, hand swatting away at something only he could see.

“He is not an evil god,” Brun dutifully told her. “He meant no harm. And we found a loophole together: I could no longer feel my own emotions, but I could still feel his.”

And with dawning horror Angharad began to understand where the tale was heading.

“We tried many things, we did,” the man said. “Did you know, Lady Angharad, that in the moment a man – one not owned by the Gloam, not dimmed – dies, their presence in the aether is searingly bright? All the colors and emotions of their weave, there then gone.”

He raised his hand and snapped his fingers, the sound a sharp contrast to the serene face.

“There is nothing Farolito loves even a hundredth as much as a death save for the festival, and that is only once a year,” Brun said. “So I did what I must.”

It never ceased to astonish Angharad what manner of ugliness could fit under the mask of I did what I must, as if behind that excuse lay an endless pit dug for horror’s sake. The blond man cocked his head to the side.

“I rationed it, used the pact only when I must,” the Sacromontan said. “Every six months, more or less. It was still dangerous and I decided the Watch might be able to help, to fix it. I chose the Dominion as my way in so they cannot refuse me when they find out what I do.”

That was, her uncle had told her, the virtue of these trials: that to pass them saw you enrolled directly into the ranks of the Watch. Brun sighed.

“But I have had to use my contract so very much,” he said, sounding faintly irritated. “To find enemies, to grasp who was lying to me or trying to get me killed. And so the world grew quiet.”

The blond man met her eyes.

“Jun was to tide me over so I would last the rest of the journey with the infanzones,” Brun said. “Aines was because it was starting to grow difficult feigning emotion.”

His gaze was unblinking.

“I used my pact too much when we ran from cultists on the way to Cantica,” the Sacromontan said. “Making sure Song was not leading us into an ambush. At this rate, I might have to kill a blackcloak in Three Pines. Accepting Yaretzi’s offer was the least risky-”

The door opened and Brun reached for his hatchet, but Angharad’s half-formed hopes were dashed: it was only Yaretzi returning. The Izcalli carefully closed the door behind her.

“No lights under the doors,” she told Brun. “More interestingly, Tristan is no longer in his room and neither is Augusto Cerdan. It seems we are not the only ones cleaning up before the vote. I told you, my dear: that boy is most definitely a hired killer.”

“He is a rat to the bone,” the man said. “You mistake him.”

“How has he convinced so many people of that?” Yaretzi complained. “After Lan traded me his suspicions for the Milk I knew the little bastard was too dangerous to leave sniffing around, but no one would bite. The best I could manage was to send Ferranda after Isabel in the hope she stumbled into whatever they’ve been doing about the Cerdan. Thirteen Heavens, my darlings, that boy has gone around half the trials lugging around the exact same poison box Watch assassins use. How has no one outed him for it yet?”

Yaretzi turned to smile at her, like they were friends sharing a confidence, and Angharad felt like ripping out her teeth. Death was crawling closer to her with every word and she kept waiting for the fear to come, but the warmth of anger yet kept it out. Like keeping your hand so close to candle flame it began to burn, chasing out every other sensation.

“He must be fresh to the profession,” Yaretzi told her. “As a rule you should bring only the substances you intend to use, it is much less obvious.”

Brun shifted on his feet.

“You made your sweep,” he said. “Let us finish it.”

“Soon, soon,” Yaretzi said. “I told you, I need her to answer some questions first.”

The Izcalli idly unsheathed a knife, then knelt by Angharad’s side. She tried to get up, but her limbs had grown so feeble they did not even need to push her back down. The point of the steel was drawn across her cheek and came to rest under her eye, lightly enough it did not cut skin.

“The tiles in the kitchen of Llanw Hall,” Yaretzi said. “What color are they?”

Angharad clenched her jaw as much as she could, which still had her tongue lolling in her mouth. Yaretzi eyed her, then sighed.

“Torture is very messy, dear, I do hope you won’t force me to resort to it,” the Izcalli said. “Let us try again with something easier, then. Your uncle Osian – where is he getting all the coin? Did your mother perhaps bury a fortune somewhere, tell him of the location?”

Angharad blinked. What coin? Yaretzi’s eyes narrowed impatiently.

“The man has been spending gold like it is copper, my dear,” the Izcalli said. “He put out an open contract matching whatever price is on your head for the skull of any assassin trying to take yours, and he’s known to have paid out at least ten times. I heard so many assassins slew each other trying to catch you in Ixta that the guilds in the city are still at war.”

Angharad choked. Ixta? The sleepy little port town on the Emerald Coast where she had spent exactly three hours waiting on the docks before changing ships? Yaretzi let out an irritated sound.

“Useless,” she said. “Do you know why he pulled the open contract, at least? Did he run out of coin? It happened when you arrived in Sacromonte and I know you received at least one letter from him there.”

Angharad leaned forward, as if to give answer, and Yaretzi came closer. Only when she tried to spit on the other woman her tongue would not move, so only specks of spittle flew and the rest stayed bubbling on her lips. Yaretzi withdrew with a sigh.

“Ayanda was not nearly this much trouble,” she complained. “So eager to talk, that girl, she gave me everything I needed the first day. It must have been her contract that got her recommended for the Krypteia, because she did not notice in the slightest when I doused her waterskin with Milk. Not much – just enough to slow her down some. The same dose I traded Lan.”

Yaretzi shrugged.

“After that it was just a question of waiting for her to stumble and be caught by those Red Eye savages.”

Looking at the smug pride on the Izcalli’s face, Angharad felt genuine hate for one of the few times in her life as she remembered the bleak grief on Zenzele’s face. How broken must you be, to make a living out of inflicting suffering?

“Don’t be jealous, dear,” Yaretzi chided. “House Sandile offered a tidy sum for the death of the little bitch who stole the husband of their matriarch’s favorite niece, but it’s not even half of what is on offer for you. I just decided to collect on the girl first after seeing you go up against that Saint. It seemed likely you would pick up wounds saving fools anyhow.”

Yaretzi wagged a finger.

“Only you kept surviving, you inconvenient darling you, and even when I got close you kept living through my attempts,” she said. “I tried to off you discreetly during the trial with the clockwork god and then again in the stairs with Ishaan, but you are a most difficult creature to kill.”

“Fugh yew,” Angharad snarled.

“I don’t tell you this to boast, my dear,” Yaretzi patiently said. “I tell you so might understand that I am not some hired thug but a professional, an anointed daughter of the Obsidian Society under brokered contract. It is our rule that learning knowledge which only the mark would know serves a proof of the kill, but when that is not feasible one may also present the head instead.”

She leaned forward.

“Tell me the color of the kitchen tiles in Llanw Hall,” Yaretzi said, “and your uncle will receive a corpse with the head still on it. I understand Malani have some funerary customs relating to eyes, no? Would you not prefer to ease his grief while you still can?”

“Aye ashm noth,” Angharad bit out, “Malani.”

And she would not help this creature to get away more cleanly with her crimes. Perhaps she could not fight, but she could at least try to make enough of a mess that these animals were caught. Song, Song would see to it. The silver-eyed Tianxi would not let this go, the sole comfort Angharad had in this ugly mess. She tried to rise again and found some sliver of strength yet remained to her limbs. Yaretzi clicked her tongue in disappointment.

“Fine,” she said, sheathing her knife. “It was always a long shot, and it’s not like torture is reliable when one cannot take their time. Brun, try not to make too much a mess. I’ll hold her down for you.”

Angharad half-raised her arm, but she was brushed aside like a child and pushed back into the mattress by a bored Yaretzi. That boredom somehow insulted her more than the rest of this put together. That she was a chore, not even a foe. Brun, face twisting with something like relief, approached with his hatchet in hand. Angharad met his eyes, burning with indignation, and the blond man stilled for a moment. His green eyes flicked to Yaretzi, almost considering, but then he sighed. The hatchet rose all the way.

Death came down for her as a sharp length of steel, only to slow.

A whisper sounded in her ears, rising to become the nearing beat of wings until it blotted out everything else and a strange power rippled through her body. Above her a single, beautiful peafowl feather drifted down from the ceiling and Angharad realized that her limbs no longer felt numb. The mayura’s blessing, it had cleared the poison. The spirit’s power left her, the hatchet coming down viper-swift again, but Angharad was no longer helpless.

She grabbed Yaretzi by the collar, dragging her in the way, and took vicious satisfaction the way the Izcalli’s eyes widened in utter surprise.

“Fuck,” the assassin cursed, the blow taking her in the shoulder with a wet thump.

Angharad kneed her in the stomach, Yaretzi stumbling back with a wheeze, and as she rose pushed the stumbling Izcalli into a surprised Brun. The back of his knees hit the bedside table, tipping her sheathed saber to the ground, and she caught it with the tip of her toes.

Assassins,” she shouted, only halfway through realizing there was no use.

The door was closed and the owners of the two nearest rooms were in front of her. Brun yanked his hatchet out of Yaretzi’s back, earning a hoarse scream, and as he turned to hack at her Angharad deftly threw up her saber with her toes – she caught the scabbard just as his blow came down, slapping aside his forearm with it so the hatchet went by her shoulder. Yaretzi struck from the other side, knife back in hand, but Angharad halfway unsheathed her saber to strike her chin with the pommel of the sword and knock her back. She glimpsed-

/Brun hacked at her back, biting into her spine and sending her/

-and turned with a blow she would not have seen, getting out of the way just in time for the hatchet to take Yaretzi in the arm as she turned around Brun’s back and finished unsheathing the blade. She kept the scabbard in hand. Her knees almost buckled as a wave of apathy hammered into her mind, but elbowing Brun in the back had the sensation vanishing into smoke. She finished turning around to face them.

Brun was a skilled fighter, she thought, but it was a raw sort of talent. He had not been taught that being predictable in a duel was death. The Sacromontan pushed away from her from to make distance, so that he might have enough room to swing his hatchet, but Angharad had begun swinging even as she turned: the edge of the saber caught him at temple height and a slight angle, splitting his eye like an egg and sinking into the skull.

Death in a stroke.

Angharad calmly kicked his back as she ripped free the blade, brain spraying as it sent the corpse falling into Yaretzi’s way and forced the Izcalli to draw back nearer to the door. The assassin licked her lips, Angharad watching as it sunk in for the other woman that she was two wounds in and standing alone.

“You took an oath,” the Izcalli suddenly said. “Not to do violence on other trial-takers. If I no longer fight you, you cannot-”

Angharad threw the scabbard at her face. The knife went up to slap it aside, and that was all it took: the point of her saber went straight into Yaretzi’s heart, pinning her to the door with a thump as the assassin let out a wet gurgle.

“You knowingly broke the rules of the Trial of Weeds, assassin,” Angharad politely informed her. “You no longer qualify as a trial-taker.”

She broadened her stance, preparing to rip out the blade, but before she could the door burst open and the corpse flew at her. Smothering a sound of surprise, Angharad struggled to hold on to her saber as someone forced their way into the room – only to find Song levelling a musket at her, Sarai right behind her and sloppily pointing a pistol as she held up a lantern.

“You- oh,” Song said, taken aback.

There was a heartbeat of silence.

“Are we quite sure,” Sarai began, eyes lingering on the two cooling corpses, “that she was the one needing rescuing here?”

Angharad’s jaw locked.

“The mayura’s blessing saved my life,” she stiffly said. “They came at me with a poison and Brun’s contract.”

Her stare firmed as she turned to Song after saying thus.

“A jest,” Sarai said. “I meant no offence.”

Angharad did not reply, eyes staying on Song and silently asking why she had not warned anyone of Brun’s contract. It would have been a much stronger suspect than Ishaan’s, and while she could understand wanting to keep the power of her own eyes quiet that did not excuse warning no one at all.

“I do not know what it does,” Song admitted. “Did, now, I suppose. It was written in some sort of Sacromontan street jargon, half the words weren’t even recognizably Antigua.”

The noblewoman gave a slow nod and felt a knot in her shoulders loosen. Had Song been one of the pack of selfish schemers she was being forced to deal with, she was not sure what she would have done. So much of what she had taken to be truth before coming to this island was… Nobles acting like wolves, loyalty a hangman’s noose and honor in the strangest of places.  She had thought Peredur the model of the world, once, but now she was forced to wonder how much she might have missed.

Angharad swallowed, mind was still awhirl with all her killers had said. ‘Yaretzi’ was a confessed liar, so much of what she said about others could be discounted, but her talk of Tristan – and that he had been accomplice to Isabel, who she knew did have troubles with the Cerdan brothers – rang uncomfortably true.

Remund had disappeared after spending time alone with him, for which they had yet to receive account. No one had thought to take that up since both men were expected dead, but perhaps there was a need after all. Angharad felt a great exhaustion settle on her shoulders like a mantle, and with it a vicious urge: to out every dirty little secret this misbegotten island carried, to finally have it out and done.

Sarai cleared her throat.

“We should wake everyone else, have it known now the pair tried to kill you,” the pale-skinned woman said. “Else accusations might turn ugly come morning.”

“There is more to tell besides,” Angharad wearily said. “Brun effectively confessed to the murders of both Jun and Aines while Yaretzi admitted to being a member of something called the Obsidian Society as well to poisoning Ayanda with something called Spinster’s Milk.”

Sarai let out a noise of surprise.

“Zenzele won’t take that well,” she warned.

“He must be told regardless,” Angharad replied.

Though first, she decided, she should drag the corpses out into the hall. The blood was soaking her floor. Wiping her blade on Yaretzi’s back, Angharad went to pick up her scabbard and sheathed it. She was about to go looking for her boots when someone turned the corner: Shalini, looking haggard but with both pistols up, stumbled into the scene and froze. A heartbeat later Ferranda followed, blade in hand, and then Zenzele half-tripped past them as he pulled on his boots.

“Huh,” Ferranda said.

The Someshwari lowered her pistols. Shalini’s eyes flicked back and forth between them and the dead.

“What happened?” she asked.

“They attempted to kill Angharad in the night,” Song told them. “It went poorly.”

“No shit,” Shalini amusedly said. “I could have told them how that’d go if they’d asked.”

“And the other two of you?” Zenzele asked with a frown, finally dragging his boot up.

A pause. Angharad turned to the other two women, cocking an eyebrow. What had drawn them to her room? She had thought the sound would not carry. Sarai sighed.

“At Song’s request, I put a Sign on Lady Angharad’s door that would break if someone opened it,” she said.

“They had me at their mercy for quite some time,” Angharad neutrally said.

She appreciated the gesture, but not the presumption. Besides, why her of all people?

“I slept through it breaking,” Sarai admitted, sounding embarrassed.

She reddened under the number of incredulous looks thrown her way.

“Look, it’s not a Sign I have fully mastered and I haven’t had a good night’s sleep in days,” she said. “I ended up waking up later and noticing it was gone, so I went to get Song and we found…”

“Predictable consequences?” Zenzele drily finished.

Whatever else might have been said, it was forced to wait. More were joining them, the rising sound of talk in the hall drawing them. Tupoc first, who made a point of theatrically gasping as the sight of the bodies then, Lan and Cozme.

Angharad face them, face still flecked with blood.

“Let me get dressed,” she sighed, “and then I will tell you everything.”

It was not long to explain, for all that it had felt an eternity when the pair had her prisoner.

Zenzele’s face went bloodless when he was told his beloved had been drugged into demise at the behest of House Sandile, Shalini laying a hand on his arm, while Tupoc looked slightly miffed. Remembering Yaretzi’s confession regarding the stairs, Angharad made her amends there.

“I did not believe you when you claimed Ishaan was pushed by her,” the noblewoman said, addressing Shalini. “Yet she did, and I apologize for my mistrust.”

The other woman grimaced.

“We looked pretty shady at the time,” she replied. “Water under the bridge.”

As for Ferranda, Angharad was too tired to keep secrets any longer.

“Song and I found a secret passage in the gate shrine and overheard your conversation with Isabel when you accused her,” she bluntly said. “Yaretzi has since confessed that she directed you after Isabel in the hopes that you would stumble into some alleged plot against the Cerdans she was weaving with Tristan.”

Ferranda Villazur drew back in surprise.

“I – are you sure? Tristan?”

“I am certain she said it,” Angharad said. “She also confessed herself a murderer and a liar, so I put little stock in her words.”

The grey-eyed man was a criminal of some sort, and prone to tricks, but he had also demonstrated a certain sense of honor. Several times he had risked his life on behalf of others to no clear gain.

“The boy is suspicious,” Cozme grunted. “He came back and Remund did not.”

“He came back with a belly wound from falling down that slide with your Cerdan,” Sarai flatly replied. “Had to be treated for lockjaw, you can ask the blackcloaks. Your boy Remund wasn’t quite so lucky and he’s still impaled somewhere in the maze as far as we know. Nasty way to go.”

She did not sound all that sympathetic.

“Where is he right now, then?” the mustachioed man pressed. “Yong cannot leave his room, but where is the rat?”

“Investigating the activities of the townsfolk, as I requested of him,” Song flatly said. “I find it somewhat interesting you do not ask where Augusto is, as he is also missing.”

Cozme straightened.

“Augusto is no longer my responsibility, but Remund was-”

“Nobody cares about your brats, Cozme,” Lan interrupted, tone impatient. “Tristan could have slit both their throats in the middle of the street and most of us would have clapped. Tredegar, get on with it. What about Brun?”

Cozme Aflor looked more than a little angry, but he had no friends in the hall. Angharad laid out the rest of what Yaretzi had told her, prompting an interested noise from Tupoc at the mention of the Obsidian Society.

“They are famous assassins in Izcalli,” he informed them all in a rare display of concord. “They are a cult of the Skeletal Butterfly that takes killing contracts, they’ve been around for centuries. Rumor has it they even slew a Grasshopper King once.”

She moved on to Brun, after that, and revulsion rose as she described his contract and how it had slowly turned him into a murderer. The description of its effects had Shalini grimacing.

“I felt something like that on the night Jun was killed,” she admitted. “When I had the watch. I thought I was just tired and never entirely fell asleep so I said nothing save to Ishaan, but everything Lady Angharad speaks of is something I have felt.”

Lan looked murderous, an unusual look on her face, but then what did Angharad know? Both Yaretzi and Brun had accused her of poisoning him before the Toll Road, something the Pereduri had mentioned and the blue-lipped woman not denied. Angharad had thought herself aware of most the undercurrents in their company, wise to its workings even if she occasionally missed pieces, but that illusion had just been most thoroughly stripped away. Others had danced around her so deftly she never even noticed she was attending a ball. No more of that, Angharad coldly thought. She would not be made such a fool again.

Tupoc, who was closest to the stairs, suddenly tensed. He raised a hand at the rest of them, demanding silence as he raised his spear.

“Someone just came in,” he whispered.

Lord Zenzele glanced at their group, then down below.

“It is Tristan,” he said.

He had used his contract, she thought. Tristan must have a tie to someone in here.

Tupoc did not put the spear down.

“Xical,” Angharad warningly said, hand going to her blade.

“Three in a night would just be greedy, Tredegar,” Tupoc chided her amusedly.

He put the weapon down, however, just as someone began hurrying up the stairs. The loudness of it was startled her. Tristan was a light-footed man, yet now he stomped up at a run. The scruffy grey-eyed man erupted past the threshold, steps stuttering when he saw them all gathered in the hall.

“Oh,” Tristan said. “Everyone is here. Good.”

His eyes flicked to the corpses, unmoved at the sight. He did not even ask.

“Finally showing up, are you?” Tupoc drawled. “Lateness is becoming a habit with you.”

“Tupoc, shut the fuck up,” the man said, and there was a ripple of surprise at that unusual boldness. “We do not have time for this. I was just in the town square, where our hosts – every single one of which is a devil – were having a spirited conversation about eating us all.”

The silence was instant and complete.

“Then on my way back,” Tristan ferociously continued, “I passed by the postern gate where I happened to catch Augusto Cerdan letting in a warband of cultists. This happened-”

He produced a small timepiece, popping open the lid to see. It felt vaguely familiar.

“- three minutes and change ago,” he finished. “By now I expect they will be moving to free the slaves.”

Noise erupted all at once, half a dozen people speaking up. Song’s voice cut through, clear and calm. Trained, Angharad thought. Song Ren had been trained for command, or at least leadership.

“Dress and arm yourselves,” she said. “Everything else can wait.”

Some grumbling, but Angharad cut through it by hurrying to her own room and picking up her bag. Enough followed suit at the sight of her that the rest were pressured into doing the same. It had been a mostly symbolic gesture on her part, as her affairs were already packed, and she was back within moments. Just in time to hear Song and Sarai interrogating Tristan.

“- one was older than the others, called Akados, and some of the other devils accused him of wanting to ‘anneal’ through slaughter,” the man said. “I have no real notion of what that might mean.”

“Older devils eventually become fixed shapes in the aether,” Song absent-mindedly replied. “Their kind calls that process annealing, like the smithing term.”

She would know, the Pereduri thought. The Republics allowed devils citizenship, sometimes even to serve as bureaucrats.

“What does it mean, a fixed shape in the aether?” Angharad asked, stepping close.

“What she said,” Tristan supported.

She fought down the flicker of fondness. His eyes had not wavered at the sight of the corpse and too many black rumors yet hung over his head. Angharad was done putting trust in smiling strangers.

“It means no matter how many times you kill them they’ll crawl back out of the aether eventually,” Sarai grimaced. “Old devils are nothing to trifle with, though this one should yet fall short of the threshold.”

“If it is old enough to be discerning about the kind of aether it feeds on, it must be getting close,” Song warned. “I expect if it fed on the simpler aetheric taint of murder rather than ‘slaughter’ it might have finished the process.”

Angharad cocked her head to the side.

“Is this… discernment why devils in stories are afflicted with strange compulsions?” she asked.

Children’s tales had clever heroes outsmarting them by spilling beads the devils then had to count, tricking them into suicide for being unable to find a rhyme for their sentence.

“More or less,” Song said. “But that conversation can wait until we are in a place of safety. Tristan, you have your affairs?”

“Everything I care to carry,” the grey-eyed man said, then paused.

He turned to Sarai.


She grimaced.

“He cannot stand,” she replied.

“Then we will have to carry him,” Tristan flatly replied. “Lady Angharad, if I might ask for your help?”

A worthy cause, Angharad thought, and so she nodded her head.

She was the one who knocked, a muted voice telling her to enter. Yong was lying in his bed, half-naked but his torso so thoroughly covered by bandages he might as well have been wearing a shirt. Only his arms and part of his shoulders were left bare – the expanse of skin drawing attention to the loaded pistol he was pointing their way. The barrel wobbled when he began coughing wetly, and his eyes were watery. He recognized them after a moment, lowering the pistol and setting it on the bedside table.

“What happened?” he croaked. “I heard voices.”

“Brun and Yaretzi tried to off her,” Tristan bluntly said, jutting a thumb Angharad’s way. “She killed them instead, I hear, and outed all their dirty little secrets.”

Angharad eyed him, reluctantly amused.

“Tristan went to spy on the townsfolk and found out they are all devils,” she contributed. “Augusto Cerdan, the honorless cur, has also let in a warband of cultists.”

The timepiece snapped open, then closed. Angharad could not shake the feeling that she had seen it somewhere before.

“About five minutes ago,” Tristan said. “We need to get moving or we’ll be hip deep in devils and darklings soon.”

Yong let out a rattling breath.

“My stitches won’t hold,” he said. “I cannot move.”

“That is why we came to carry you,” Angharad said.

“You mishear me,” Yong said. “It is not that I cannot walk – I cannot move. The physician told me I am to stay abed for at least two weeks.”

“That physician was a devil who wanted to eat you,” Tristan pointed out, quite reasonably in your opinion.

“I saw the stitches in a mirror,” the older man replied. “They cover much of my back, and if they rip there is no question that I will die.”

“I do not dismiss your concerns,” Angharad assured him. “We will ask for the help of others and take great care. But we most move, Yong.”

“She’s right,” Tristan quietly said. “The devils will come here for certain, it’s where the meal is.”

Yong stared at them for a long moment, then breathed out.

“I know,” he finally said. “I know. And it would be an ugly way to die.”

He clenched his fingers.

“I expect I won’t be able to move much,” Yong said. “I may have to trouble you to carry word for me, Tristan.”

The younger man stilled, face closing like a shutter.

“Your husband?”

Angharad frowned, for the Sacromontan sounded like he hoped he was wrong. Yong nodded. After a grimace, Tristan nodded back. She could not help but feel as if she were intruding, somehow. The Tianxi’s stare moved on to her.

“I require some privacy,” he told her.

“I understand it is unpleasant, but you will need help to dress,” she said, trying to be delicate.

“Some matters require privacy,” he gently replied, eyes flicking to the chamber pot.

Ah, Angharad thought with some embarrassment. Indeed she would prefer not to be there for that.

“Yong,” Tristan began, but the veteran raised a hand.

“Don’t,” he said. “We have said all we need to say. Nothing has changed.”

The grey-eyed man looked like he wanted to argue, but instead he let out a long breath

“I guess it hasn’t,” Tristan said, voice soft.

He sharply nodded, then walked away. Angharad followed him out, carefully closing the door behind her. Tristan leaned against the wall, folding his arms, and the frown that had never quite left deepened at the sight of how grim he looked. How his jaw was clenched.

“He lied,” she said.

She had suspected as much, but now knew.


A shot sounded from behind the door.

Tristan flinched.

“He chose to make it quick,” the man hoarsely said, “instead of ripping his stitches and suffering hours of agony before the same end. It was…”

Tristan licked his lips.

“It was his choice to make.”

He sounded, Angharad thought, like a man who was not sure who he was trying to convince. She should have been angry at being deceived again, but Angharad could not muster it when she saw the grief in cast of face. Tristan pushed off the wall, a slight tremble to his hand.

“If you’ll excuse me,” he got out, “I need to make sure my friend died with the first shot.”

For he had not, Angharad realized with faint horror, Tristan would have to finish the job himself. She watched him open the door, glimpsed the billow of powder smoke and red on the wall, then looked away.

She kept her eyes on the stairs as she heard him see to his dead friend, fighting not to throw up.

No one asked what had happened to Yong: seeing Tristan lay his body to rest on the bed was enough to quell that urge in even the most curious among them. Angharad’s gaze swept through their company, finding them assembled and as ready as they would get.

She swallowed, gaze still shying away from the room where a man had taken his own life.

“We are to proceed, then,” she said. “Song has shown all of you the map, so all should know where we are to gather: half a mile north of here, by the marked stones.”

“It has all been said before,” Lord Zenzele mildly said. “Shall we?”

She threw him an irritated glance but nodded. Yet before she could take a single step down the stairs, a metallic sound drew her eye – and that of most present. Tristan had gone back into Yong’s room and tipped a lantern. Oil spilled over the corpse of the veteran, spreading a tide of softly lapping flame.

“I am not leaving him for the devils to eat,” the grey-eyed man evenly said. “Besides, it can serve as a distraction for our escape.”

Several looked like they wanted to argue but the oil was quite literally already spilled and now the bedding was catching aflame. There was no time to waste, not that they had been rich in minutes before.

“Hurry,” Angharad said, cutting through the silence. “If they do not yet know we are onto them, they soon will.”

She moved down the stairs, knowing that action would cut through any urge to argue: no one wanted to debate with a departing back. She heard steps follow behind, adjusting her scabbard on her hip so it would not hit the wall, and in moments she’d reached the common room. There her steps stuttered for she found she was not alone. Angharad moved out of the way so the man behind her – Tupoc – could follow, but her eyes never left the man she was facing.

Only Mayor Crespin was not truly a man, was he?

The devil wearing the corpse of a bearded, middle-aged man was waiting by the exit, flanked on both sides by two closed shutters. He leant against the door, square in their way should they want to leave.

“I hear fire,” the devil said.

“We hear of plots,” Angharad replied, the others coming down behind her.

Lantern light ate away at the shadows of the room, muskets rising and blades leaving scabbards. The mayor seemed unmoved by their numbers.

“’tis a poor notion,” Crespin said, tone dipping in a formal, almost antiquated Antigua. “Yet my kin agreed, so it must be done.”

In the distance, she heard shots. The mayor twitched. As he should, if the cultist warband was loose in town and gathering their slaves against them.

“You have greater worries than we, I think,” Angharad said. “Can you truly afford this distraction?”

The devil seemed amused.

“Why should I worry of a scapegoat skipping all the way to the altar?” he asked. “It was not us that killed them so, good blackcloaks, but arrant cultists of the Eye.”

Her jaw clenched at the mockery.

“It need not come to violence,” she tried one last time.

“You are lucents,” Crespin told her, not unkindly. “No thing done to you may be named violence.”

There was no bargain to be had here, not with a creature such as this.

“Walk away,” Angharad said, slowly unsheathing her blade. “While you still can.”

Mayor Crespin twitched, lifeless eyes looking her up and down – not with a lover’s appraisal but a butcher’s, tracing the cuts in the meat.

“Alive, if you can,” the devil ordered.

The shutters exploded into wooden shards, devils bursting through them. Shots sounded from behind Angharad, billowing plumes of smoke as her allies fired their guns, and one of the silhouettes was swatted down – but rose a heartbeat later, half of its face missing and revealing cracked chitin. Crespin was still leaning against the door, having merely cocked his head an inch to the side to avoid a bullet.

“Focus fire on the wounded one,” Song called out from behind her, voice completely calm. “Crack the carapace.”

Leaving tactics in good hands, Angharad strode out to meet the enemy with allies at her side – Tupoc on one side, Zenzele the other. A dark-haired woman with a tanned, weathered face leapt at her like an animal. It was a startling jump, impossible with human legs, but momentum was a universal shackle: Angharad slid under the leaping form, letting her pass by, and then pivoted cleanly to open her from shoulder to spine.

Skin parted like parchment, but under it some kind of oily chitinous carapace refused to give under her blade. She left a long scar and the devil screamed, but she was turning around furiously within a heartbeat. Painful, then, but not a wound. Angharad caught a glimpse of Tupoc impaling a devil through the stomach, nailing the false man to the floor, and of Zenzele struggling with a bald old man. Rapid fire from the back still nailing the fourth attacker to the ground.

Crespin watched all, indifferent.

She had no more attention to spare. Her devil let out a furious clicking screech, skin rippling as it struck at her. A simple slap that would have hit her shoulder, and though quick it was predictable. Angharad caught it with her blade angled to go through the wrist, her training moving before her mind, only instead of cutting off the hand she almost lost her blade. Even that slight, awkward blow had been like getting kicked. Lips thinning Angharad drew back her blade, scarring carapace again, and glimpsed-

/Skin rippled, a leg ripping its way out and piercing her throat./

-in time to half-step out of the way of the jutting, thin limb that lanced out of the devil’s back. Angharad aimed her swing carefully, and finally the blade bit through: steel ripped through the horrid appendage, dropping it as the devil screeched and scuttled back. The severed leg twitched on the floor, bloodless and seemingly boiling. The sight of it inspired a deep, visceral disgust in her.

Her devil foe was twitching uncontrollably under the shell, two more legs ripping their way out as it skittered away in fear of her. Tupoc’s own opponent lay on the ground, convulsing – Sleeping God, what was that segmented spear made of? – and the Izcalli was giving a bloodied Zenzele a hand driving back his own as the firing line pinned the fourth to the wall with shots and burst its belly open into a spurt of disgusting pale flesh. They were winning, she thought, but one of their foes had yet to take the field.

“Pathetic,” Mayor Crespin said. “Useless castings one and all, a waste of His Infernal Majesty’s grace.”

“Stathera,” her devil whined, “they are-”

Crespin moved, fast enough she saw but a blur, and then he was holding the wounded devil by the throat. Without batting an eye, he tossed his comrade at the firing line. Angharad let out a cry of warning – she heard Cozme draw his sword, cursing, and a glimpse of Tristan fumbling with a pistol she had last seen in Yong’s hand.

The distraction cost her, for in that heartbeat Crespin casually grabbed a table and smashed it down on her.

Angharad brought up her hands to shield her head and was hammered into the ground, dazed. The wood splintered atop her. Hissing in pain she kicked off the piece pinning her down, rolling out of the way just in time to see Crespin ram his way through the counter and rip out a long and sharp piece. His eyes turned further away, where the tossed devil was fighting the others in a messy sprawl, and Angharad saw what he was looking at: the lanterns.

Devils saw in the dark. Humans did not. Without the lanterns, they were all dead.

With a cry she threw herself forward, hacking wildly at his arm, and the devil turned at her with an irritated look – a slap caught her in the belly, near cracking a rib and sending her tumbling away on the floor. She stopped only when her shoulder hit the wall, just under one of the windows. Through which, she saw with surprise, a musket was being aimed. Angharad had just long enough to drop her sword and cover her ears so she would not go deaf from the shot.

A dozen muskets unloaded into common room, the cult of the Red Eye announcing their entry into the fight.

Snarling, Angharad reached out through the window and dragged a man through it by his collar – wincing at the tenderness of her ribs – to smash his face into the floor. The hollow flailed, shouting, and as she rose she snatched her blade back even as her booted heel came down on the man’s neck to snap it. Someone tossed a javelin her way and she narrowly ducked behind the still-closed door. Two cultists leapt inside the inn through the windows but a heartbeat later Mayor Crespin darted out of the smoke to rip one’s jaw out, nonchalantly gobbling down the flesh and bone as the cultists screamed – the older devil was driven away by musket shots, but he would be back. More cultists leapt in, swords high as they ran into the smoke.

There was no winning this, Angharad thought, eyes trying to find the rest of her companions but finding only an anarchy of powder smoke, steel and hateful blows. She opened her mouth, thinking to call for a retreat, but her words were drowned out.

A chunk of the ceiling dropped, revealing a burning inferno above as smoke swept out. The fire Tristan had set earlier, she recalled as she pushed down a hysterical swell of laughter.

“To the door with me,” she shouted over the roar of the flames.

Through the swirling smoke she saw silhouettes moving – some of them running towards her, others fighting. Ferranda leapt over burst of spreading flames, Lan hurrying behind her, and for a moment Angharad thought she saw Cozme headed her way as well. Only another chunk of ceiling fell in the way, the man drawing back with a shout, and he was dragged away by Tristan. Song was at her side a moment later, bleeding from the arm.

A chunk of it had been ripped out.

“We need to go,” the Tianxi shouted over the din. “Crespin broke a wall, the others have a way out.”

Angharad risked one last glance back, seeing a silhouette crossing the smoke. Short, coughing her lungs out. She brushed off Song’s hand on her shoulder, hurrying back to help Shalini out of the smoke as the Someshwari held on to her side.

“Open it,” she shouted at Ferranda.

The infanzona ripped open the door and Song ran through first, pivoting within moments and shooting at someone they could not see. They followed in the Tianxi’s wake, finding a dead cultist slumping against the wall with his musket on the floor as the rest hesitated, split between the devils inside and the fleeing company.

A bestial scream coming from inside burning wreck of the Last Rest was what settled the matter.

One of the cultists spitefully threw a javelin their way, but the others turned their muskets to towards the devils as the five of them fled into the streets.

There was little safety to be found out here, for chaos had seized the town.

Houses all over Cantica had been set aflame, and as they roared high slaves fled into the brutal melee between the cultists and the devils. Not all slaves were running for safety, however, many instead taking whatever lay around as weapons and joining the Red Eye cult in fighting the devils – some of which had lost patience and ripped their way clear of their shell, moving through the smoke like ghosts and ripping apart men as muskets sounded and spears bit into chitin.

“Manes,” Lan breathed out, “it’s a full-on uprising. We need to get out of here.”

“Stay close,” Angharad called out. “We head for the front gate.”

Of their party, only the Tianxi twin was not a fighter. The rest of them clustered around her: Angharad and Ferranda in front, Shalini and Song behind. They ran two blocks down before someone took notice of them, a cultist shouting and pointing their way to draw the attention of the mob of escaped slaves around him.

A heartbeat later Song put a shot between his eyes, which had half the slaves scattering as his body dropped.

They ran away before the other half, visibly enraged, could catch them. They turned a corner through a veil of smoke, following the curve of the palisade towards what should be the front gate. Twice more they ran into hollows, but the first time they were fleeing slaves who gave their company a wide berth and the second lot – three spearmen in mail – were chased off by a few shots. They were lucky, Angharad realized: the front gate was far from the fighting. The worst of it was deep in Cantica, where hollows had been kept imprisoned and the cultists now fought the devils.

Soon they were standing by the gates, which were yet closed. A wooden gatehouse by their side should carry the wheel that would open the gate, so the five of them carefully moved towards the simple wooden house nestled to the right of the gate. There was not a soul in sight, and barely any light: theirs came from the lantern Lan had lit and the inferno rising in the distance. The older Tianxi took the lead.

“Unlocked,” the blue-lipped woman said, testing the gatehouse’s handle.

She pushed it open, stepping into the dark with her lantern high, and in that same breath she was grabbed.

Angharad let out a shout of alarm, rushing forward through the doorway, but there was a flash as a musket was fired and Shalini only narrowly dragged her out of the way as a bullet whizzed right past her shoulder. Between the shot and Lan’s toppled lantern she caught a glimpse of what lay inside: at least three cultists with swords and muskets, pointing them at the door.

“See? I told you they would go for the gate, like rats leaving a sinking ship.”

Fury rose, bursting out as a snarl as she ripped her way out of Shalini’s grasp and recognized that voice.

Augusto,” she hissed.

She could not see him, he was hiding out of sight, but by where the voice came from he must be the one who had taken Lan.

“I have a knife at your pet’s throat, you Malani bitch,” Augusto replied. “And enough men with me you have no hope of forcing your way through.”

Angharad glanced at Shalini, silently asking whether her contract would make a lie of that, but the short Someshwari grimaced and shook her head. However fast her hand, it was not faster than a finger already on the trigger.

“You have nothing to win by this,” Angharad snarled. “And know that if you kill Lan, I will personally torch that gatehouse with you inside it.”

The chokepoint of the door worked both ways: their muskets would keep his band in just as theirs would keep her company out. The Cerdan chuckled.

“He did this for leverage,” Song quietly said, lowering her voice so the men in the gatehouse could not hear. “He wants something from us.”

“Oh, he’ll kill us if he can,” Ferranda just as quietly said. “That was no warning shot. But I wager our Red Eye friends did not trust him with nearly as men as he would have liked, so he came ready to bargain.”

“How much is that rat’s life worth to you, Tredegar?” Augusto called out. “I happen to be in the mood to trade.”

Lan was under her protection, Angharad thought with a clenched jaw. She felt Song’s eyes on her, saw the objection that lay there, and ignored it. She would have no truck with expediency.

“What do you want, Cerdan?” she asked.

“An oath from all of you,” he said, and her brow rose. “You are to tell the Watch that you killed me, and if one of you breaks that oath you are to kill them for it.”

She frowned. Why would he need this? Angharad, unpleasant as the notion was, was not even entirely certain the blackcloaks would execute him for letting in the cultists. Tupoc had worked with them, and evidently felt safe in the assumption they would not. So he fears they will execute him for something else, she decided, and the answer soon came as to what that might be.

“You contracted with the Red Eye,” she evenly said. “Down in the maze. The Watch will kill you for it.”

“I am not hearing agreement,” Augusto called out.

A heartbeat later she heard Lan let out a cry, then struggle. Her fingers creaked around the grip of her saber, but to charge through that doorway was death.

“He cut me,” the Tianxi said, sounding like she had a hard time keeping calm.

“And I will do it again, until I have what I want,” the Cerdan said. “The rat for the oath.”

“I don’t understand why he wants it,” Shalini muttered. “It won’t get him off this fucking island, and it’s not like the blackcloaks will hunt him if he goes off with the cultist tribes.”

“He does not intend to stay on this island,” Ferranda guessed. “He would go back to Sacromonte.”

“The Watch will kill him for that contract,” Song said. “Unless…”

Unless he intended on killing them first, they all thought. To lead an army of cultists against Three Pines and seize a ship by force, sailing back to Sacromonte without them, and there hid behind the protection of House Cerdan.

“He’s gone mad then,” Angharad said. “A single warband and whatever slaves he press-gangs to take on a fortress of the Watch? They will make meat of him.”

Then she saw it, the lay of the scheme.

“No, not mad. He is thinking like a warlord,” she breathed out. “He would use the victory here to gather other tribes to his banner, try to unite them against the Watch.”

Even then the odds were against him, and her companions looked as skeptical as she felt. But that was why he wanted the oath, she thought. So he would have time to muster the tribes and yet still strike at Three Pines with the advantage of surprise. Perhaps he intended on feigning he was a late survivor and opening a gate as he had done here, or any other half-dozen schemes. It did not matter, Angharad thought.

If he wanted the stars in a cup, then she would make that promise.

“I will take your oath,” Angharad said.

Angharad,” Song hissed.

She met those silver eyes squarely.

“I will take that oath,” she repeated, “and so will everyone here. In exchange for this you will release Lan unharmed.”

Doubts on their faces, but she would not brook contradiction in this.

“Good,” Augusto said. “How honorable of you, Malani. Swear to it, and I will do the same.”

Angharad did, and under her quelling eyes the others did the same. Lan was sent stumbling through the doorway, bleeding shallowly from the neck. Ferranda grabbed her and pulled her out of the line of fire. There was another spurt of laughter from inside the gatehouse.

“Shall we now bargain for us to open the gates for you?” Augusto called out. “Unless you want to come and try yourself.”

What she wanted, Angharad thought, was to take a lantern and set that gatehouse aflame. But that might break the mechanism that would let them out, and she was not sure strength alone would be enough to force open the gates. Her other choice was to pass by the heart of Cantica and try Tristan’s postern gate, but that was no true choice. She was not sure exactly where it was and the path was likely to be dangerous.

That and Augusto was certain to follow behind and try to rally cultists against them, now that he knew where they were.

They were the entire reason the man was here, Angharad realized. He had been afraid enough of them slipping out of Cantica in the chaos that he was sitting out the battle entirely.

“Speak your terms,” Angharad said, ignoring the rising anger of her companions.

“So pliant,” Augusto taunted. “You should have been like this from the start, Tredegar. I’ll have another oath from you for the privilege of my tolerance.”

“Then speak it,” she replied, losing patience.

He must have heard it in her voice, for he wasted no more time.

“You are to commit no violence against me nor allow your companions to do the same, or attempt to imprison me nor allow your companions to do the same,” Augusto said.

“Under that oath you could walk out and kill me and I would be allowed to do nothing about it,” she said. “I refuse.”

“Fine,” he snorted. “The same terms, but violence is allowed in your own defense and that of your companions.”

“That is a lifetime oath,” she noted. “I will accept it only within the confines of Cantica.”

“The entire island,” Augusto shot back.

Angharad’s eyes narrowed. He thought to play word-games with a daughter of Peredur? It would cost him.

“Until twenty-four hours have passed,” she offered.

A heartbeat of hesitation.


They took the oath, and a few moments later the gates began to open.

Angharad smiled, humming the first few bars of The Fair Wife, and considered the death of Augusto Cerdan.

61 thoughts on “Chapter 42

    1. CantankerousBellerophan

      Crespin’s statement, that nothing done to lucents may be named violence, has the weight of history. It’s the kind of thing only said by two kinds of people, and only justly by one: genocidal oppressors, or those they oppress.

      Determining which is which, in this case, is interesting, likely requiring more knowledge of history than we currently have. What we know of devils is not promising. Not only do they eat people, but it appears they are strongly physiologically incentivized to eat them alive. If those who eat enough living humans truly do become immortal, it’s a wonder any are able to maintain sufficient civility to live among humans in the Republics. Perhaps, as Song implies, the only deciding factor is age, and devils fed only on the dead can achieve this too, but the words of Akados make that seem less likely. This is not like the bigotries sown of propaganda concerning real-world “savages” by empires more worthy of that epithet. Devils are, genuinely, not human, with reasons to hold mutually exclusive values beyond the cultural.

      Lucents, though, are colonial invaders. Their inability to survive the natural darkness of Vesper would betray this fact even if the introduction to this story had not. They, in a very real sense, should not be here. Their existence is violence upon all the world, as it requires violence to maintain. For all the natural denizens of this place, any violence committed in driving them out is defensive, for all the same reasons that anticolonial struggles must be held as just no matter the means.

      But, as is often the case in this story, there is a hugely relevant difference between this world and the real one. The Children of the Radiance have nowhere else to go. Perhaps long ago they invaded these lands for greed and exploitation as our own ancestors did, but now it is for bare survival. The surface is gone, scoured as it is by the Glare that sustains its children still. The original sin tainting them cannot be atoned for, because they can’t go back to what they were. It seems the Republics have found some means of detente between invader and invaded, but if it involves the permanent sacrifice of one of their gifts on the part of the Devils and nothing of the sort from humanity it is unclear how sustainable that is.


      1. CantankerousBellerophan

        Cave-dwellers who came out of the dark to feed on the surface, if we were to assume things about a fictitious ecology.


      2. Nobody

        Invading someone like that isn’t exactly normal colonialism.

        But I meant to imply that devils might not have naturally evolved at all. For all we know the Gloam was completely barren of intelligent life until the Antediluvians first arrived.


      3. Yitzi

        It is never “just” to identify a group in which membership is involuntary and declare that nothing done to them may be named violence.
        It may be that the origin of lucents was as colonial invaders. But the failings of the ancestor may not be justly held against the descendant who is not knowingly guilty of the same.
        “Original sin” is also a flawed ideology used to justify oppression. A person may be held to account for their own deeds, no more.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. Sad

        “It’s the kind of thing only said by two kinds of people, and only justly by one: genocidal oppressors, or those they oppress”
        “For all the natural denizens of this place, any violence committed in driving them out is defensive, for all the same reasons that anticolonial struggles must be held as just no matter the means.”
        It is not just in either case. Would you call it just if Native Americans were to engage in murder until all descendants of Europeans, Africans, and Asians in the Americas were dead? Even though no one chooses where they are born (or who they were born to), and few people have the realistic choice to move elsewhere?
        You are claiming that it is just to kill people who had no choice in where they were born, because they were born in the “wrong” place to the “wrong” parents. Think about that for a while.
        Alternately, if this is a parody account, feel free to ignore my comment. But please realize that the rhetoric you are using (even in jest) is used to gather support for all kinds of atrocities in the real world.


      1. There were 2 ways Isabel’s death could be interpreted: (1) Brun needed a kill for what were unclear reasons back then; or (2) EE is setting up Angharad for one final “betrayal” from Song. Brun had his reveal moment in this chapter.

        EE has been building Angharad as a character in a certain way. A big part of it is being betrayed or proven wrong.


    1. Mirror Night

      Since I cannot responds to your second comment will comment here.

      The problem is there is no way for Angharad to find out unless Zenzele tells her or Song volunteers the information. The former is more likely cause I don’t see Song coming out and saying she did it…when it can look like an accident. Quite frankly I think it hit harder if the reveal gold held awhile…a foundational lie could be more impactful on Angharad then finding out now.


  1. Nobody

    The entirely obvious play is that Tupoc is no companion of hers. Also, Tristian is probably willing to renounce being one as a price for Cerdan’s death, if he doesn’t just do it like he would do a murder and not get caught.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. WealthyAardvark

      Another possibility would be that Angharad is holding to a very strict definition of “unharmed”, and since Lan was already cut by Augusto then the oath was never binding. She was the one who inserted that clause and it feels very conspicuous to me.

      Liked by 5 people

      1. Zurulean

        No, I believe the trick is, that the four of them have sworn to tell the watch they killed him. They can tell other people and Lan was present but didn’t take the Oath.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. There is also one simple thing she could do in the first oath. They tell the watch he is dead, that is the oath. Nothing said about saying that he told them to say that or the other stuff!

        Maybe I’m lawyering this wrong though.

        Liked by 1 person

    2. Simeonrr

      “The same terms, but violence is allowed in your own defense and that of your companions” he already harmed one of her companions so the contract isn’t worth the paper it is written on.

      Liked by 4 people

      1. lysDexicsUntie

        The oath specifies defence, not revenge for previous harm.

        So as long as Augusto is not actively threatening or endangering Lan the fact that he previously caused a superficial injury has no effect on that part of the oath. He could attack them but if they did not kill him while defending themselves they would not be allowed to act once he stopped/surrendered. After all, the oath doesn’t prevent him from doing violence, so it would still be in effect.

        Only Angharad’s actions could be counted as breaking the oath.

        “You are to commit no violence against me nor allow your companions to do the same, or attempt to imprison me nor allow your companions to do the same,” Augusto said.

        “Under that oath you could walk out and kill me and I would be allowed to do nothing about it,” she said. “I refuse.”

        “Fine,” he snorted. “The same terms, but violence is allowed in your own defense and that of your companions.”


    3. Glasshalffullism

      The obvious play is wait 24 hours and then kill him. That way she can still tell the watch she did it without it being a lie. She already wants to kill him anyway.


      1. Him accepting the time limit implies that whatever plans he and his God is cooking up will make it a non issue. If it’s anything Augusto is good at it is surviving. He is like a mythical level cockroach. You whack it as hard as you can and all that do is stun it long enough to fool you into believing you finally got it. Only that once you dare to blink it suddenly is halfway across the floor and you know it will disappear into some crack you can’t even see is there before you can whack it again.

        Liked by 2 people

  2. Earl of Purple

    Devils are cool. Yaretzi had secrets I wasn’t expecting, and it seems Sacromonte has a tradition of naming gods- Fortuna is no longer so unusual.

    Sarai needs to tell Angharad about Augusto’s new contract, or Song does. If she’s had time to read it, and it’s in Antigua.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. lysDexicsUntie

      Remember, Remund’s had a title:

      “The Tiller-of-Rectitude has twisted tastes, for all that his boons are powerful.”

      And Fortuna also has a title:

      Tristan Abrascal was the sole contractor to the Lady of Long Odds in all of Vesper

      It seems likely all Gods have both name and title. But Tristan and Brun both seem to have unusually close relationships with their Gods, so that may be why they use, or even know, a name instead of just the title.

      Liked by 4 people

      1. Earl of Purple

        So far, every god has had a title, so far as is known. There’s a couple we weren’t properly introduced to; the Cogwork Spirit, the Dove Shrine God, the Crystal Maze God, and the Hollowed Dog, for example, though only the Dove Shrine God wasn’t a puppet of the Red Maw. Fortuna and Farolito are the only two with names as well. Although we weren’t given a title for Farolito; perhaps it would be the name of that festival.


      2. lysDexicsUntie

        Brun specifically said the festival had no name, but it wouldn’t be hard to come up with a title relating to the festival or it’s purpose.


  3. Syndic

    In exchange for the oath, he was to release Lan unharmed.

    “Lan was sent stumbling through the doorway, bleeding shallowly from the neck.”


    Liked by 3 people

  4. passerby

    i see several plays with Angharad’s oaths. those who took them have to tell the watch they killed him, but they aren’t restricted from telling anyone else that they had to take such an oath. and she’s definitely going to have it out with tristan about the supposed plot with the ceradans, which see’s us with at least 2 potential killers of augsto if she talks soon enough, and still at least tupoc assuming she doesn’t wait out the 24 hours.

    i am so fucking glad that Angharad finally had the scales ripped off her eyes with regards to people dancing around her with deceit. i hope very much that she get’s better at spotting it. my ideal case is probably angharad learning a bit of the trickery dance from tristan and tristan learning how to fight better from her. However, that requires both characters to start developing some trust for each other which may not be happening unless tristan is honest about why cozme is also going to go missing.

    idk about others but i am increasingly fond of tupoc and am hoping he both survives and stays in the main cast. he’s not a good person (though at this point i don’t think any of our main cast are strictly good people) but i am enjoying his interactions with other characters and he definitely seems useful if you don’t need to worry about him stabbing you in the back

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Regarding the oaths: Rule lawyering me instantly spotted the “unharmed” clause, but dismissed it as the wound was received before the oath was accepted. And with no provision for the oath to cover retroactive incidents it can not be used to invalidate the oath. And as Angharad knows when the wound was inflicted she can’t use the excuse of mistaking the time line of events.

      About telling the Watch that they killed Augusto: I see some loopholes. They have to tell the Watch that they killed him. There is nothing preventing them from then turn about and say something like “That last sentence was a lie, forced upon us by an oath. By the way, Augusto Cerdan has contracted with the Red Maw.”

      Now there might be story laws regarding oaths that prevents this. However it seems unlikely that Angharad accepting this oath can cover any group other than those present.
      So Tristan and those with him should not be bound by these oaths. So they can be told of what happened and would be free to inform the Watch. They may have to sneak it past her or the oaths might force her to try to stop them.

      Rule lawyering can be fun, but we can only work with what information we have. All to often the full world specific rules for say oaths are unknown to the reader. So we can guess and theorize, but the author always has the last say.

      And it’s not only rules, but I can imagine Angharad having a hard time trying to circumvent the intention, the spirit, of the oath due to her personal sense of honor. While most others wouldn’t hesitate to use any way they can imagine to backdoor it.


      1. And I think this response was supposed to go to an earlier post, perhaps Simeon way up above.

        Sometimes it seems this site will throw my replies just about anywhere but where I want them…


      2. lysDexicsUntie

        Honestly we haven’t seen any sign of a compulsion to follow oaths.

        I would easily believe the reason people are so willing to take Angharad’s oaths as a guarantee is not because of supernatural enforce is expected but more regarding her previous behavior and reactions to honor, honesty, and duty. Other people’s oaths are accepted because it is believed she will hold them to their oaths.
        Because she has been so straightforward and open about everything they don’t realize she understands and is willing to use loopholes and sophistry. They expect she will go by the “spirit” of the deal because of her “honor”.

        Angharad has specifically thought of how rules lawyering and exact wording instead of intent is acceptable back when dealing with Cozme about Augusto in Ch 11.

        Liked by 1 person

    2. john

      “Hey Tristan!” says Angharad, “Are you a professional assassin?”

      Tristan carefully considers his response while screaming internally.

      “Long story short, I want to hire you to kill Augusto Cerdan. Can’t do it myself, due to an oath, but it needs to LOOK like I did it, as far as the Watch is concerned. Well, technically any combination of me, Ferranda, Lan, Shalini, and/or Song. I… haven’t really got much to pay you with, apart from the exact words of Augusto’s contract with the Red Maw, and I’m completely unfamiliar with the traditional etiquette of murder-for-hire negotiations, but I hope we can make a deal somehow, and fast.”

      Fortuna laughs.


    1. DalinarKholin

      What was the blessing that Tredegar received to fight back against the poison? I can’t recall her having a blessing like that or receiving that from somewhere. Was it from the bird?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Usuallyquiet

        Yes, from the mayura peafowl in their last interaction leaving its temple. Angharad did something like gift a bit of her blood to the dead god, and the bird told her it liked her and gave her a blessing of petting its head, where Angharad thought she heard some whisper.

        Liked by 3 people

  5. Mirror Night

    Lan is a badass normie. Clocked it was Brun and slowly poisoned Brun.

    Brun contract kinda tragic. Yaratezi was busy. Looks like Song did off Isabel. Be curious to see if Angharad where to find out. Zen can see secrets.

    Roster is down to 10. Augusto is dying and Tristan grabbed Cozme so maybe the roster does get cut down to 6.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Mirror Night

      Also Angharads Uncle continues to be more impressive, the more we hear about him offscreen. Able to wield very effective influence and I am looking forward to meeting him

      Liked by 2 people

  6. Minor potential typo
    “For he had not, Angharad realized with faint horror, Tristan would have to finish the job himself.”
    “For had he not, Angharad realized with faint horror, Tristan would have to finish the job himself.”

    Liked by 1 person

  7. lysDexicsUntie

    but her talk of Tristan – and that he had been accomplice to Isabel, who she knew did have troubles with the Cerdan brothers – rang uncomfortably true.

    Interesting that Angharad can have suspicions about Isabel now that no contract is affecting her.
    I am very interested to learn more about her uncle.

    A few notes about that oaths.
    1. Tristan, Tupoc, Cozme and Maryam didn’t make it.
    2. It only prevents them from telling the Watch Augusto is alive. They can tell the Watch anything else, like about his, contract, and tell anyone else everything.
    3. Until the trials are completed none of the trial takers are part of the Watch. If they are told the truth then join the Watch, no one that took the oath told the Watch.
    3. Angharad can claim for the purpose of the oath only the people with her now count as companions she cannot allow to do violence.
    5. Angharad can also claim the others that aren’t here are companions she has the right to defend if Augusto fights them. (gotta love technicalities)

    Augusto really needs to learn attention to detail…


    1. Excellent writeup. Much less rambling than my own I made as a comment to a post above.

      However I think your point 2 is a bit off. And I’ll try to use quotes to illustrate that. I know you love those as you’ve used them often and brilliantly to correct me when my memory failed me.

      “An oath from all of you,” he said, and her brow rose. “You are to tell the Watch that you killed me, and if one of you breaks that oath you are to kill them for it.”

      [lots of talking and thoughts cut out, but nothing to change the wording of the oath]

      “I will take your oath,” Angharad said.

      So they do have to tell them that they killed Augusto.

      Though I guess they could also follow that up with something like: “And that last was a lie that I was forced to by an oath, or my fellow oath takers would be forced to try to kill me.”

      Technically that would not be breaking the oath as there were no provision for keeping the oath itself secret. There may however be inherent rules for oaths in this world that prevents this. We can only speculate on what we know.


      1. Oh, and Angharad’s sense of honor may prevent her from trying to circumvent the intention of the oath, but the others shouldn’t have any problem with that.


      2. lysDexicsUntie

        What I meant in point 2 was they can tell the Watch everything else (betrayal, murder, contracts with the Maw, etc) besides Augusto is alive (because they have to say they killed him). They can tell Tristan and Co, or anyone else not Watch really, that they did not actually kill Augusto and about the oath they made with him. Which could then be passed on to the Watch.

        In Ch 11, when dealing with Cozme regarding Augusto, Angharad specifically remembered her father’s lessons on using the wording of oaths and was perfectly willing to do so to circumvent the spirit of them. She didn’t enjoy the lessons or doing so, but her honor didn’t prevent it.

        I have also seen no sign of inherent rules or supernatural enforcement of oaths. It seems to me that Angharad’s previous actions and behavior are why others are willing to trust her oaths and that she will enforce others doing the same.


      3. Someperson

        Another major thing that Angharad will have to navigate if she wants to keep the oath:

        If she told the watch that she killed Augusto right now, it would be a lie. Oaths are the most important to her, but even just lying is still a very big deal to Angharad. Right now it looks like she either has to break an oath or tell a clear lie, and I don’t think she would be okay with doing either. Either way it is really bad for her honor.

        Fortunately, there is a really obvious solution to this, and it is something that Angharad should do anyway: she just needs to actually kill Augusto before she reaches the Watch, so that when she keeps her oath and tells the Watch she killed Augusto, she isn’t lying.

        Yes, she is oath-bound not to harm him, but Angharad went out of her way to add a 1-day time limit to this.


  8. averhan

    Remember, nothing done to the lucents may be named “violence”, and “violence” is very specifically the thing Angharad and her companions are forbidden from doing to Augusto, who is a lucent.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. ByVectron!

    Angharad is starting to realize that honor, oaths, and nobles aren’t all she believed them to be, and not only that, but also that she had been mistreated (run in circles) by her faith in those things. Let’s see how that shakes out.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Abnaxis

    “Ferranda Villazur drew back in surprise.

    ‘I – are you sure? Tristan?'”

    Ferranda is either much more dim than I thought, or she’s actively covering for Tristan. She’s seen him use the poison cabinet to poison an airavatan and to draw lemures onto the infanzones


    1. lysDexicsUntie

      Just because someone carrying a pharmacy can make poison from the ingredients (and any medicine is poison in a high enough dose) doesn’t mean you will suspect them of plotting with one noble against other nobles that they seemingly have nothing to do with.

      A halfway decent pharmacist will know how to make poison and the negative side effects of their materials simply so they don’t accidentally poison/kill their patients.

      Additionally, Tristan has been actively presenting himself as harmless, helpful, and grudge free.

      (BTW, my new assumption for the Tristan votes in previous chapters are Tupoc, Yong, Yaretzi, Brun)

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Abnaxis

        The specific instances Ferranda has direct knowledge about are using a substance that attracts lemures–which notably, was used against her to her annoyance–and a substance that poisoned an airavatan. This in addition to a number of instances where poison has been less subtle, like when Vanesa used his full cabinet.

        Given the nature of these trials, it’s a bit of a stretch to think “stuff that makes you get attacked by wild animals without you noticing you’regiving off a scent” is somehow medicinal and not be suspicious.


      2. lysDexicsUntie

        A lot of ingredients in medicine can have side effects on their own that can be mitigated when mixed or are considered harmless or the benefits worth the negative effects.

        For the thing that attracted the lemures we (and probably most of the trial takers) don’t know what other effects it may have or if it can be mixed to create something medicinal. The effect of drawing lemures probably wouldn’t be considered a big risk in a guarded city that probably has few to no lemures, especially when areas that may have them could be temporarily avoided.

        When he poisoned the airavatan you have most of the same reasoning, plus a smaller dose or using it on a human could be beneficial. It was specifically only a poison to spirits.

        “Volcian yew,” the thief said. “My entire stock.”
        Sanale let out a hard bark of laughter.
        “A poison?” Yong frowned.
        “Only for spirits,” the Malani grinned. “Clever man.”

        The Vanessa incident is even less suspicious because no one knows exactly what she used, and she used massive doses that would have made almost any medicine poison.

        As far as any if them know all items he carries could be standard pharmaceutical ingredients and he is just making creative use of side effects, mixing, and overdosing. Which any halfway competent pharmacist could do.

        Liked by 2 people

      3. lysDexicsUntie

        Additionally, most of them didn’t know anything about what the trials consisted of, so how would they know something with that side effect would be useful. Same with the ingredient that poisoned spirits.
        They didn’t know they would be facing lemures and spirits, so intentionally bringing ingredients to combat them that would require sacrificing part of the group that would be better off working together and don’t even permanently injure or kill the lemures/spirits seems very unlikely.

        Liked by 1 person

  11. lysDexicsUntie

    Another interesting thing to note is that twice in this chapter Angharad was willing to entertain suspicions that Isabel may have been up to something.
    I’m wondering how much other decisions or assumptions she made that were subtly influenced by Isabel’s opinions will change now that she is no longer unnaturally trusting of everything Isabel said.

    ex 1: but her talk of Tristan – and that he had been accomplice to Isabel, who she knew did have troubles with the Cerdan brothers – rang uncomfortably true.

    ex 2: “Yaretzi has since confessed that she directed you after Isabel in the hopes that you would stumble into some alleged plot against the Cerdans she was weaving with Tristan.”


    1. Nobody

      Though in this specific case… I don’t think Tirstan got to do much plotting against them with Isabel before she died? Bit of a missed opportunity there, honestly.


      1. lysDexicsUntie

        They plotted the death of Remund.

        He asked for the following:

        “I need two things from you: a recounting of the venture in the maze and for you to find a place where I might corner him.”

        And without her assistance he would have had much more difficulty separating Remund from the group.

        “Is there a room where it will be easy to split up the group?”

        She nodded as he wrapped the bandages around her hand.

        “Before the mirror hall there is a room with a wheel and three gates, it is certain we will get separated there,” Isabel said.

        Since after Augusto’s betrayal she no longer needed him dead to avoid marriage and she had no reason to see Cozme dead (plus Tristan had enlisted her aid claiming a grudge against Remund specifically) there really wasn’t more plotting for them to do.


  12. PendanticCounter

    Is it just me, or does it feel cheap that Tristan has to sneak around, investigate, and deduce to get information while Angharad… just has people confess? I felt the same when she stumbles across Isabel.

    Regardless, it’s great to get answers about Brun and Yaretzi. I didn’t catch Lan poisoning Brun, I assumed it was side effect of his contract. Brun’s also got very bad survival instincts. Killing Yaretzi then outing her as an assassin would have been WAY safer than trying to kill Angharad. I did guess that Yaretzi was an assassin but I totally missed that she was after Ayanda as well. Interesting to hear that Ayanda was recommended for the Krypteia. It’s always hilarious to watch people assume that if they just stop fighting after attacking that they can walk away. As if she’s a robot and here’s one clever little trick that solves all my problems!

    To address a couple points I see people made above:
    1) The more important part of the oath about telling the Watch he died, was her promise to kill anyone who broke it. It’s less about all of her group being willing to keep the oath and more about weaponizing her honor as the enforcer. It’s halfway clever but still going to backfire horribly. See my point about Yaretzi above. Also they could totally just say “ I’m oath bound to Augusto Cerdan to tell you that I killed Augusto Cerdan.” The wording is pathetically imprecise.

    2) “Until 24 hours have passed” I don’t think it’s coincidence that we’ve seen Angharad notice that Tristan has a watch twice in the last chapter. I expect she’ll wind the hour hand forward.

    We get another glimpse behind the metaphysical curtain here. So gods seem to be created or drawn by human perceptions. Concepts given life by human perception and belief interacting with aether. So we get the Someshwari creating victory or defeat gods after battles. The miners creating the Farolito, binding hopes and celebration to the lanterns and creating/attracting the concept. Then we have gods like the Red Maw, which appears to be manufactured in an artificial way for a specific purpose by the Antediluvians, not organically formed from human perceptions. Then gods can become physically manifest, contracts, sacrifice, and prayer helping them overcome entropy to become physical reality. They seem to become more real, more recurrent, by doing so, Boria claimed that he’d return even if killed by the direct light of the glare. So the gods are specific aetheric concepts that become more real through human interaction.

    The devils sound the opposite. They are castings, identical generic replicants of something (Lucifer?) that consume general aether to become more powerful and specific. Then as they grow, they become more specified requiring a particular concept or kind of aether to become eternal.

    I wonder if the Circle Perptual is actually real. If there really is human reincarnation, it would fit nicely. Human’s bathed in the constant metaphysical power of the glare become recurrent patterns in the aether, reborn after death just devils and gods that have become specific concepts reemerge from the aether.


  13. ohJohN

    The first oath seems so full of holes that I wonder why Augusto even bothered. Like:

    1) they escape directly to the Watch; Angharad, Ferranda, Song, & Shalini all line up and say “we killed Augusto”; Lan immediately says “hey they were oath-bound to say that, dude contracted with the Red Eye and is very much alive, you should kill him before he leads the cultists against you”

    2) Lan dies on the way, they tell literally anyone else what happened, and that person takes on Lan’s role from #1

    3) only the 4 under oath get to the Watch; they all say “we killed Augusto”; the oath is now irrevocably fulfilled, given the wording (“You are to tell the Watch that you killed me”, they did that & cannot undo it); they can now freely say “jk lol, dude’s still out there”

    4) only Angharad and Song reach the Watch; both say “we totally killed him”; Song surreptitiously tells a watchman the truth, because unlike Angharad she hasn’t built her entire life around ‘honor’ and the oath (as far as we know) is not metaphysically binding; Song has one more thing to lie to Angharad about, should she bother to ask any questions

    5) Angharad alone reaches the Watch; “Augusto contracted with the Red Eye, has command of the cultists, and forced me to make an oath to tell you I killed him. Anyway, I killed him [waggles eyebrows suggestively, shakes her head] and then he let Lan go and walked away with the cultists, completely unharmed. So weird how this guy I definitely killed [rolls eyes] just kept walking and talking afterwards, what’s up with that”

    As for the second oath, Angharad already laid down a possible foundation to get around it:

    “Though you will be accompanying us,” she flatly told Tupoc, “you will not be of our company.”

    An important distinction to her, he expected. Perhaps she would not be bound to offer him aid in battle if he was not a ‘companion’.

    Liked by 1 person

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